Isaac Bober’s first drive BMW X1 sDrive20i review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a nutshell Filling the space left by the previous-generation X3, the X1 is BMWs take on a premium compact SUV.

Practical Motoring Says When the BMW X1 lobbed onto the market in 2009 it just about had the premium compact SUV segment all to itself. Fast forward to now, though, and its standing room only with competition from the Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque as well as vehicles like the Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester. Thanks to a recent refresh, the X1 looks a little slicker than before. And its excellent driving dynamics mark it out as a star performer in the premium compact SUV segment.

WHEN BMW RELEASED the X1 back in 2009 it said it was pioneering a segment, that of the premium compact SUV. Not really. No matter, it did, however, fill the gap from 2010 left by the first-generation X3 becoming much bigger for its second-generation, indeed, it became as big as the first-generation X5, which is in a segment above the X3. But I digress.

While motoring scribblers the world over fumbled for kind words to describe the X1’s square jaw; a mid-life facelift in 2013 softened the looks and you could now just about describe it as being ruggedly handsome.

Our test car was the X1 sDrive20i. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted this car is an sDrive and not an xDrive. Yep, two out of the four models in the X1 range are rear-wheel drive, and they are this sDrive20i and also the sDrive18d (a diesel), the xDrive20d and xDrive28i are all-wheel drive. Prices start from $46,300 (+ORC) for the sDrive18d and top out at $59,900 (+ORC) for the xDrive28i; our sDrive20i starts from $48,300 (+ORC).

BMW X1 sDrive20i

The car BMW provided us had plenty of options boxes ticked, receiving metallic paint ($1308); wood trim ($500); a panoramic glass sunroof ($2308); front parking sensors and reversing camera ($850); and the xLine package ($2769), this adds 18-inch alloys (up from the standard 17s), full leather upholstery, sport steering wheel and some other cosmetic fripperies. That pushes the list price up to $56,035 (+ORC).

To be honest, looking through the standard features list, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with any of the above. The sDrive20i is well equipped as standard, although it misses out on front and rear parking sensors or a reversing camera which many much cheaper cars now come standard with. Out of the box it gets: push button start/stop; steering mounted paddles; 17-inch alloys with run-flat tyres (so no spare); daytime running lights; sat-nav, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity with audio streaming, and more.

BMW X1 sDrive20i

Our X1 sDrive20i is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 135kW (at 5000-6250rpm) and 270Nm of torque from (1250-4500rpm). This is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and fuel consumption is a combined 6.7L/100km. In my time with the X1 (a week) I managed 6.9L/100km but most of my time with the thing was spent on the highway; around town you can expect to see that number rise, even with stop/start. I ended up turning stop/start off because I found it to be a little coarse on start-up and I was hardly in stop/start traffic, so…

Because the X1 has more in common with the old-generation 3 Series it’s ride and handling is impressive indeed. Yes, it stands a little taller than the E91 3 Series and so there’s a touch more bodyroll in corners but such is the balance that only the ham-fisted will push this thing into understeer.

Thanks, probably, to the slightly longer-legged suspension, the X1 rides comfortably, although it is quite keen to settle and so occasionally sharper hits can send a jolt through the cabin, but on the whole this is a very smooth riding machine. Steering in the sDrive20i is electric power steering and manages to offer the right blend of weight, speed and accuracy to suit keen drivers without alienating, ahem, soccer mums.

BMW X1 sDrive20i

Climb inside the X1 and there’s plenty of room for the driver and front-seat passenger and its easy to get comfortable behind the wheel too with reach and rake on the steering wheel. The slightly raised seating position doesn’t quite make the X2 sDrive20i feel like a full-size SUV but it does give you good view of the road ahead, although the rear window is a little small and so the reversing camera is a must (and should be a standard feature).

In the back, the small door openings, certainly smaller than those of our long-term Subaru XV which is a similar size to the X1, mean that taller passengers will have to be mindful climbing into the back seat. And fitting small children into seats in the back means you’ve got to be extra careful not to bump a head.

The boot will hold 420 litres with the rear seats in place; fold them forward and this grows to 1350 litres. The boot opening is nice and wide and we had no problem loading either groceries or children’s prams into the back, even with the X1’s high-ish boot lip.

In terms of safety, the X1 gets a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating (from 2010 onwards) and runs a host of active and passive safety systems, including airbags for front and backseat passengers, disc brakes right around, central locking, and BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control which incorporates traction and stability control and ABS.

BMW X1 sDrive20i

Price From $48,300 (+ORC)
Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres
Safety five-star ANCAP
Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power/Torque 135kW/270Nm
Transmission eight-speed automatic (cost option); six-speed manual (standard)
Body 4477mm (L); 1798mm (W); 1545mm (H)
Weight 1510kg
Thirst 6.7L/100km (combined)

[repayment model=”BMW X1 sDrive20i” principal=”48300″/]


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  1. Hi Isaac, I am just wondering how you would compare the BMW X1 to the Subaru XV. We are in the market for a new car and live in country QLD. I want a smaller car with clearance, but like you, also have two small children. I have also been looking at the Volvo v40 Cross Country but am put off by the pedestrian airbags as we have loads of kangaroo’s out here. Would love your thoughts/suggestions please if possible?

    1. Hi Jen, For you, the XV sounds like it would be best. It’s cheaper than the X1 for a start, and if you live out in the country and travel dirt roads often then decent clearance and all-wheel drive would be a must. The XV offers all of that.
      That said, the XV isn’t as luxurious as the BMW and it’s sat-nav system is miles behind the unit in the BMW. But the XV matches the BMW for ride and handling; it might even pip it if I’m honest. The engine could do with a little more grunt (we might get the diesel with the model year upgrade later this year) but don’t hold me to that… The boot isn’t huge, but it was big enough for everything we needed to carry.
      I’ve sent quite a few people towards the XV and I wouldn’t hesitate in suggesting you take a closer look at it. The only other one I’d suggest is the Skoda Yeti 103TDI. It’s not particularly attractive but it’s great to drive and very practical on the inside; you can remove the back seats altogether if you need… Hope I’ve helped.

  2. Thanks Isaac – yes price is an issue and we agree that the XV is much cheaper than the X1. But how will both car’s fare in the long term? We currently drive a 2003 Subaru Liberty Wagon with nearly 250k on the clock and it has been an amazing car and still looks good. My worry is that due to the XV being so cheap, does that lower cost come at the price of the quality of it’s fittings and parts? How well will the XV age? We are worried about fading plastics and the cheaper looking internal design. We believe in keeping a car for a long time, which is the biggest reason why we were placing the X1 over the XV. What are your thoughts on that train of thought when buying a car these days? I have also read that we could expect the price of Freelander 2’s to fall in price over the next year or so – So can I possibly throw that car into the decision pool as well. Really appreciate your feedback – thank you. J

    1. Hi Jen, I think you’d be fine with the XV. I think the BMW could end up costing you more in the long run. Subaru has great reliability and a good capped price servicing program.
      Have you thought about the new Forester Diesel with CVT? It’ll be launching later this month. And there’s a refreshed XV on the way in April too.
      The Freelander2 is a great machine, but it’s a bit old now, though that shouldn’t put you off. It’s in run-out ahead of the arrival of the Discovery Sport, so, yes you should be able to get a good deal.
      I guess what I’m saying is that if you’ve already had a good experience with Subaru why change? The Forester Diesel CVT would be well worth a look.

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